Foxconn's Wisconsin Facility is a Ghost Town Where Workers Are Just 'Moving Dirt Around'

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Foxconn CEO Terry Gou at the “groundbreaking” for the Foxconn plant on June 28, 2018 in Mt Pleasant, Wisconsin
Photo: Getty Images

The people of Wisconsin are at their wit’s end, trying to figure out what to do about a Foxconn facility that has so far failed to create thousands of jobs. And the Democratic governor, Tony Evers, signaled this week that the deal signed by his predecessor, which provided $4 billion worth of subsidies and infrastructure spending to Foxconn from the state, will likely be renegotiated.

“The hardest part for both supporters and detractors is that no one knows what’s happening,” Democratic Rep. Gordon Hintz told Gizmodo by phone. “There was a lot in the contract that’s no longer pertinent to anything going on on the ground.”

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In fact, Rep. Hintz says the Chinese company is “dragging its feet” to open the facility at what he speculates is a “subsidized loss,” perhaps to get favorable trade agreements with the Trump administration.

When the deal was announced in 2017, Foxconn was originally slated to build a 20-million-square-foot campus in semi-rural Wisconsin, roughly halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee. The promise was that it would employ as many as 13,000 people. But the company hired just 178 people in Wisconsin last year and its buildings are largely sitting empty.

The original plan also featured a Gen 10.5 facility that was supposed to manufacture TV screens but was downgraded to a Gen 6 facility that only makes small phone screens.

On January 30, Foxconn finally admitted to a reporter from Reuters that it no longer had any intention to build a factory and would instead just construct a campus for research and development. But the tech giant changed its story the very next day after a phone call from President Donald Trump.

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Rep. Hintz told Gizmodo that the entire scheme that was cooked up by Foxconn, which involved the agreement to create a factory in former House Speaker Paul Ryan’s district at the direction of former Republican governor Scott Walker, seems to have been a political ploy. Especially since President Trump personally stepped in to encourage Foxconn to keep the project moving, even after it was clear that it made no fiscal sense.

“Anytime a company says that none of the plans are viable, and when the president says something needs to happen before the 2020 election… It raises some doubt whether this is a good investment by the state,” Hintz told Gizmodo.

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And all of that is to say nothing of the environmental concerns around the Wisconsin facility, including a controversial plan to suck 2.7 million gallons of water per day from nearby Lake Michigan.

But Foxconn, whose CEO Terry Gou recently announced he’s running for president of Taiwan, insists that it still wants to make something happen in Wisconsin.

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“Foxconn remains committed to our contract with the State of Wisconsin, as well as continuing to work with Governor Evers and his team in a forthcoming and transparent manner,” Foxconn told Gizmodo over email.

“Foxconn’s commitment to job creation in Wisconsin remains long term and will span over the length of the WEDC contract and beyond,” Foxconn said in its statement to Gizmodo, referring to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

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“The first phase of construction on the WVSTP campus is beginning anew after the winter break,” the company continued. “Construction on the TFT-LCD manufacturing facility will commence this summer. We look forward to continuing to honor our Wisconsin First promise as we select partners for this next major chapter of our investment.”

The Foxconn facility was supposed to be the high-tech campus of the future. The company even produced a splashy concept video with people in self-driving cars, before they deleted the video earlier this year. (But not before Gizmodo downloaded it and republished it.) But the site looks nothing like the futuristic tech campus that Wisconsonites were promised.

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Hintz told Gizmodo that while Foxconn is “moving dirt around” and “they’ve got people assembling parts shipped in from Mexico,” the company hasn’t delivered on the agreement that they signed.

“The best thing that can happen is more transparency and accountability,” Hintz told Gizmodo. “I’m not excited about building a subsidized factory that there’s no market demand for because the president wants one, and the company doesn’t want tariffs.”

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“That’s not what Wisconsin was in it for.”

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About the author

Matt Novak

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog